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Nursing Summit helps educators and employers prepare LTC nurses for success

Author: Alex Graham

Posted on Jul 3, 2024

Category: UNB Fredericton

New Brunswick’s aging population has placed an increasingly important focus on the role of nurses, particularly in long-term care (LTC), i.e., nursing home settings. The University of New Brunswick (UNB) faculty of nursing is blazing a new path to help prepare those nurses for their new roles.

In May, UNB hosted a Nursing Education Design Summit. This two-day event brought educators, policy makers and LTC home directors and other stakeholders together to discuss how to best prepare today’s nursing students for careers in the field.

Dr Pam Durepos, assistant professor of nursing at UNB, was a primary coordinator of the event.

“There was an overwhelming interest,” Durepos said of the stakeholder engagement both before and during the summit. “We wanted to look at how to help bolster the registered nurse workforce in long term care and in other areas where it’s caring for the older adult.”

“There’s a lot of unfilled Registered Nurse positions in long term care homes. They struggle to get people partly due to competition with the hospitals. We also know that in education we have to better prepare students for those careers because older adults can be very complex and LTC is a unique setting.”

The goal of the summit was to take the first steps toward discovering the challenges that lay ahead for the industry and how to help nursing students recognize the opportunities in, and lay the groundwork for, careers in long-term care.

One pathway to these goals is through RN mentorship, with seasoned, supported Registered Nurses in LTC settings taking upper year nursing students under their wing during a clinical placement.

Currently UNB nursing students do their first clinical placement, early in the program, at a long-term care home. It’s a great hands-on opportunity but being novices in the field, the experience exposes students more to the role of a personal care worker than an RN.

The potential of an additional clinical placement later in the program will help showcase the unique professional opportunities available to nursing students in long-term care. That’s what Durepos and her colleagues are focused on right now.

“We’re hoping to make curriculum changes within the next year,” Durepos said of prioritizing care of the older adult and LTC options for nursing students who are further along in their education. But before an additional placement can be added, mentors in the field need training and support to pass their knowledge on through positive experience.

“Part of the problem is that nurses don't have the time to really mentor students because their roles are demanding and very busy. Most nurses are not really trained for how to be a mentor and aren’t necessarily familiar with where the students are coming from, meaning what their education has been so far.”

That’s why the summit was such an important step in gaining a mutual understanding between educators and stakeholders in LTC.

“Part of the summit was really educating one another about what’s going on in both of our worlds.”

Care of the older adult and the long-term care sector is becoming an increasingly important pillar of the healthcare system as New Brunswick’s population ages and nurses are needed to take a leading role in addressing these challenges, armed with modern skill sets.

“The World Health Organization (WHO) has identified that the role of the nurse is changing,” said UNB nursing professor Dr. Rose McCloskey. McCloskey, who is the director of the UNB Simulation Lab at Loch Lomond Villa, delivered the keynote address at the summit.

While current nursing education rightly places a high value on hands-on practical skills like administering needles and giving medications, McCloskey said that today’s nurses are having to call upon a host of executive-level skills as well.

With nurses playing increasingly important leadership roles in healthcare, skills like clinical decision making, care planning and delegation are also extremely important ones for nurses in training to learn.

“The WHO has challenged nursing educational programs to really look at how we’re educating future nurses. To make sure that these nurses are able to practice independently, that they’re able to make decisions that can make a difference,” she said.

“Nursing homes are the place where we can develop those needed skills.”

Dr. Sarah Balcom, an assistant professor at UNB’s faculty of nursing, said the summit was a great opportunity for academic educators like UNB and long-term care employers to come together and learn how each other sees their role in preparing the next generation, and what they are looking for.

The presentation to stakeholders included a “Day in the Life” of a UNB nursing student, to show what educators were focusing on in the curriculum and how students were learning about the field.

“It was helpful because we were able to get some feedback and learn from stakeholders what is needed need for the ideal nurse in long term care,” Balcom said.

“How we can work together to make caring for older adults and the LTC setting a choice option for students, but also to better prepare them for the important role that nurses have in LTC homes.”

Balcom said the hope is that the synergy created by the summit will help forge a path forward in the nursing curriculum and clinical placement offerings in the future.

“I think one of the things that was really exciting about the summit was the amount of enthusiasm that the stakeholders brought,” she said.

“It’s sometimes really challenging to get a group of people together, but it wasn’t challenging at all to bring this group together – to get them to participate or share their thoughts – which is really encouraging when you’re thinking of embarking on a project like this, because it means that you already have buy-in. All stakeholders see the need for this partnership to meet workforce needs In New Brunswick.”

For Durepos, learning from stakeholders about how rewarding working in long term care can be for nurses who choose that path, helped bring home the message of why this type of work is so important.

“This can be such a satisfying, wonderful place to work,” she says of LTC, noting that stakeholders highlighted benefits of working in the field like being able to stay in your own community rather than commuting to a hospital. “They really outlined why working in LTC should be student’s first choice.”

“It’s very relationships based. Nurses can have meaningful relationships with residents and with families and have fulfilling careers.”

Photo: Students, professors (and a baby) attended the Nursing Education Design Summit: Shanayah Jaillet, Jiwon Jeong, Dr. Sarah Balcom, Dr. Pam Durepos and Frances Iluebbey.